THE AMERICAN ORTHODOX CHURCH: A HAVEN FOR POTENTIAL MURDERERS?

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The January 17 report of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center on Extremism, entitled “White Supremacist Murders More than Doubled in 2017,” has just now come to our attention at Orthodoxy in Dialogue. We ask each and every Orthodox hierarch, priest, deacon, monastic, theologian, seminary faculty member and staff member, and layperson to read it carefully.

In this report we learn:

In its annual assessment of extremist-related killings, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found white supremacists and other far-right extremists were responsible for 59 percent of all extremist-related fatalities in the U.S. in 2017, up dramatically from 20 percent in 2016.

…[A] majority of the 2017 [domestic extremist-related] murders were committed by right-wing extremists, primarily white supremacists [emphasis ours], as has typically been the case most years.

These statistics matter urgently to us because white supremacists continue to spread the word amongst themselves that they can find a spiritual home in the Orthodox Church.

Let us repeat that: White supremacists continue to spread the word amongst themselves that they can find a spiritual home in the Orthodox Church.

While it may be tempting to dismiss the claims of the Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matt Parrott (see #3 below) to have infiltrated the ranks of our clergy and our seminaries as exaggerations, Orthodoxy in Dialogue continues to receive independent corroboration of the gravity of the situation from seemingly reliable sources within the Church. 

To be clear, we are talking about the canonical church: hierarchs, priests, seminaries, parishes, and monasteries belonging to jurisdictions whose bishops sit on the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, who knowingly welcome or even aid and abet white supremacists, or who turn a blind eye to credible reports that are provided to them.

We are talking about Orthodox laity who fear for their lives if they report what they know and their identities are not protected.

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We have tried repeatedly to get the attention of our hierarchs and seminaries as follows:

  1. White Supremacy: An Open Letter to the Assembly of Bishops (January 22)
  2. Letter to the Editors (January 24)
  3. Hate Group Responds to Our Open Letter (January 25)
  4. Orthodox Christianity and White Supremacy in Its Own Words (January 27)
  5. Open Letter Delivered to the Bishops (January 31)
  6. To Our Seminaries (February 8)
  7. Nazism: Our Bishops and Seminaries Must Respond Now (February 9)

We have not heard from the Assembly, or any individual jurisdiction, or any individual hierarch, or any seminary. Yet not only have we emailed our concerns to the majority of the Assembly’s member bishops and to our four main US seminaries individually, but we note that a great many bishops and seminary authorities are subscribed to receive Orthodoxy in Dialogue‘s email notifications for new articles. It hardly seems likely that anyone can plead ignorance at this point.

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Matthew Heimbach (see #7 above)—who feels “energized” by Charlotteville’s Unite the Right rally last August, at which a white supremacist murdered a civilian woman and injured many more, and two law enforcement officers died in the line of duty—was received into the Church in the parish of a canonical jurisdiction. As far as we can determine, his subsequent excommunication took place only in response to the swift public outcry in various online Orthodox forums. Left unanswered is the question—which seems to have provoked no collective curiosity on the part of our hierarchs—of why such an individual would have felt at home in the Orthodox Church in the first place. Why do the proponents of an ideology responsible for the majority of domestic terror-related murders in the US, who make potential whistleblowers in the Church fear for their lives, continue to spread the word that the Orthodox Church is the spiritual home for them?   

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A few individuals have asked why Orthodoxy in Dialogue insists on keeping this issue front and centre when the Assembly of Bishops condemned last August’s events in Charlottesville. On August 20 not only did we thank the Assembly for its statement, but we defended it against its critics. Here we wrote:

The editors of Orthodoxy in Dialogue wish to commend the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America for its thoughtful, articulate response of August 18 to last week’s disturbing events in Charlottesville. (See the Assembly’s statement here). We see the statement as a significant moment in the Assembly’s history and, by extension, the history of the American Orthodox Church. It represents—let us hope and pray!—the modest beginning of a critical pivot in our institutional self-awareness as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ not only in, but of and for, America.

We wish to defend the Assembly’s statement against the charge, on the part of some, that it is “not enough.” As far as statements go, we find its content and tone to be equal to the situation in Charlottesville and to its underlying sociological causes.

Yet we are now dealing with something much more sinister, namely, the direct and indirect connection of the Orthodox Church with the very events and ideologies that the Assembly condemned last August. 

In an unguarded moment of obvious despair one of our most beloved and respected hierarchs recently stated that “the Assembly of Bishops is not equipped to respond to every provocation.” What we have here is not just one more provocation, but a pathology in our church, a cancer, that we fear runs so deep that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Sources that appear to be reliable assure us that it is so. Many fear that our Church in America is in her death throes.

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In our cover letter to the Assembly (#5 above), Orthodoxy in Dialogue offered its services to the Church as follows:

If the Assembly appoints an interjurisdictional committee of two or three bishops to receive anonymous reports about instances of white supremacy in our Church’s parishes and institutions, among the clergy and seminarians, etc., we can act as the conduit for those reports to ensure anonymity.

Our offer stands. Yet we are not married to it. A more efficient reporting mechanism may be found; but once again, it must be one in which the anonymity of those submitting reports is guaranteed.

It seems to us that the first step ought to be a public statement from our hierarchs and seminaries, whether individually or collectively, acknowledging the seriousness of these matters and expressing a firm resolve to investigate them.

Several thousands of Orthodox Christians and friends of Orthodoxy around the world have read the seven items listed above. This article will only add to those numbers. They are hoping and praying for a response.